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Create Your Family Garden

If I hear the word….

…in these recessionary times….

…one more effing time, I may just spontaneously combust. I’ve had it. I’ve had it the media, with RTE, RTE Prime Time, RTE Frontline, The Week in Politics, RTE news and you can throw your man Vincent Browne right in the middle as he joins the conga party bus just as sure as one more government gaff hits the headlines. This all before I don’t pick up a newspaper.

donegan landscapingI watched the youtube clip of Shane Hegarty on BBC news – yes folks, BBC news – as he spoke about the Great Things About Ireland campaign. He yapped about red lemonade and how a wake may turn into a party, our sports and our language…. I began to smile as my mind wondered, child like, as if I was in accounting class on a warm summers day, starring at a single cow in a field…..

I don’t watch the news. I don’t watch much television. I definitely don’t watch anything that may devalue my happy head. On the one hand I spend too much time outside. But I’m happy there. I love camping in the rain. I love climbing trees, still. I love good news. I admire people who smile. I call it the great outdoors for good reason and as I type this weeks piece I’m taking my caffeine in a mug that says Happy Christmas on it. That’s the kind of happy level I like to be and am at.

I’ve realised just how much time I spend outside though. A lot of that is in other peoples gardens I admit. Towards the point, I’ve got a baby girl now and she’s one and a little bit years young. When I was camping in Lough Ennell we sat on the grass together were I played the ukelele for her while Mom was off doing stuff us adults may consider important. I know I like to keep my mind occupied, which can sometimes lead to moments of ponder. The technical term is daydreaming I believe, but Ella held tight to the sleeve of my t-shirt and sang her own or at the very least the unreleased version of whatever choon I was diddling away with. And for a moment I paused…. I wondered why this didn’t or hadn’t happened at home more often, or at all. I’m hesitant to admit some of the other pre-mentioned options.

What the flip is the gardener talking about this week Mary….?

I’ve taken at a look at my great outdoors you see. I’ve been growing vegetables. I have my fruit trees. I have had pieces in my garden like my red satellite bird bath – a satellite, painted red and turned into a bird bath – but these were or are mine. Not hers or ours. And as I delve further into my thoughts, I realise I am  now potentially reticent of the old, to me, at the time, gardeners I knew back in the 1980’s. I need to change that, in a way.

I need to plant more pretty flowers. Make the garden a place of intrigue and mystery. With hidden places. Not the stereotypical ‘childrens’ garden ie. a slide in a specific space. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s not. But I’d like to have that and so much more. And it’s so easy to do. To design, nee map out the garden in my head.

She will start to walk soon and ask questions and wonder why and explore and…..well that’s what the Haynes Manual on all things Children says and in my mind as I start to doodle I can see that I just need to be impractical. Forget about the manual. Pretend I’m four… easy before you giggle there.

I need to not say I can’t. I need wild flowers growing. Not out of a packet. Just wilderness growing, wild, so I can run through it, even though I might lose things in there. But then I may also find them, which will make me smile. I know she won’t always need to hold on to me to be able to stand you see and then I’ll need a little more than that patch of grass we sat on.

For me, as I see it, the en vogue gig for the general populas may well be growing your own vegetables and it really does have a great role to play in the lives and future of this nations nippers. Very happy I am to see it somewhat take the place of the microwave. But I remember the girls I knew growing up making perfume in a jam jar, with rose petals. I remember making daisy chains. Climbing trees, taking geranium cuttings, picking some flowers for a school teacher…. such simple things, all playing such a huge part in the ever increasing big picture of my time and life not indoors.

As I delve back into my adult head, my horticulturist hat back on I realise that last seasons snow meant that I couldn’t do certain things so that they might be in flower come this year. More than that it meant I lost a season. That means I must now wait until this coming October to plant my trees.  It also means the new hedge that doesn’t exist has a valid excuse. But more, even more than that, this time next year Ella will be two going three. A big difference. And if I don’t do the things I should to my garden now, this season…. well, as her Godfather explained to me, she’ll never be that age again.

I was chatting about this with a gardener friend of mine. I was explaining that my chicken coop is painted pink and white. I will of course openly admit I had a lot of that colour left over from a previous garden endeavour. I explained my thinking, my hands almost directing  traffic as they flapped about in the air etching the garden into nothing-ness. In jesting, we came to the conclusion that if I had had a baby boy I may simply have needed a set of goal posts.

But the horticultural minds considering poetry as versus trigonometry, both agreed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the imagination is something that should be applauded and enccouraged, maybe even nurtured. We thought of the seasons, the seasons of nature one needs to pre-empt in order to be able to attract it to your garden so it is there when that time arrives.

Now that I have told myself my story and what I would like that road ahead to have in stock for me…. I think it’s about time I designed a garden for the future and for my family.

I remember some time ago being asked by a Client, who was also a Dad to visit his daughter. She had just bought her first home and had, as he described it an extreme case of the independance streak.

She inherits it off her Mother. Who inherited it from hers…..

He told me.

After a consultation with her and partner a list was drawn up. A wish list, that would make a garden. On the other page, a great big garden doodle. With numbers, arrows and outlines. But, after each item on the list was the ingredients to make that particular piece or space.

The benches, for example, were new railway sleepers, six inch nails, paint and some cement. The planting was seperated into trees, bulbs and then the lower growing plants, bed by bed. The sketch and the itinary were given to the Father. He then framed it and paid me for my time. It was her house warming present and it was hung in the kitchen, by the patio doors.

For each birthday, anniversary or celebration some items, ingredients or were it maybe got a little technical, my time was purchased by the various relations.

Better than the salt and pepper shaker she always wanted. Anyways the garden will be a nice home for that swing I’m gonna make her….

For the weekend that has just passed, Happy Fathers day. And before anyone asks why I didn’t mention Dads day last week….? I of course had to be reminded 🙂 There are reassons why I never buy myself socks.

Contact Peter Donegan:

A non-Garden-er Group ?

It is Sunday May 29th as I’m typing this weeks piece and I’ve just returned from doing  the fifth outing for the garden group that I started last year.

What goes through my brain and why I decide to start these things I’ll never know. I know I get asked if I make money out my green adventure[s], but the answer to all variations in question is a very swift no. No I don’t make money from writing a garden blog. Nor from presenting the garden radio show, the SodShow. Not even from running a garden group.

So why the flipper do you do these things Peter….?

The last time I was asked that question…. it was a woman, nee, a Mother with a child; swinging out of her like a rotary washing line, pre-filled with a barrel of cola and caster sugar relishing in the energy derived from the gale force winds it had just decided to take full advantage of.

I looked at her and her son, he dressed in full Gaelic hurling Wexford attire. I know it was hurling as a by the way because the spritely seven year old was still wearing the helmet. And as he bounced his head off every Easter egg of every shelf in the supermarket, I asked Mom was he getting his game. Her mind cocooned in a sort of time warp, immune to the protected cranium around her now acting as a sort of battering ram, brought to this earth to destroy anything in its path made of food stuffs, she softly answered…

No Peter, they put him on for the last few minutes if they are losing badly, but that’s only because we have the mini bus and drive the team everywhere….. I reckon they just feel sorry him. To be honest, he s***e , I know he’s mine and all but…. fair play to them….

Explosion! Like a whirl wind passing off at the speed of light, someone clicked the imaginary magic switch and even though it was for just a moment, this soft calm spoken almost frail in her speak woman had by some unidentified odd form of metamorphosis had turned into Missus Terminator…..

Great to see you again……

I think she was trying to end the sentence with my name, but as she ended this unusual holler, my name turned into something different as she began running faster and faster away from me, her head like an owls revolving a full 180 degrees in the direction she was travelling….

….Pet…Jo…er….hnny!

As I took the corner I could see Johnny had just bounced off the mayonnaise display. Aisle 7 was on the verge of turning into the OK Coral and Mom had the only gun! Poor Johnny I thought as I quickly took the corner.

Back to gardens and my relevance. One can’t measure nor monetise a level of enjoyment. At least I can’t. Not when it comes to gardens. To be quite honest I always thought garden groups as a really boring place to be where levels of hierarchy maybe had a chance to shine through a means of speaking botanical latin, which is absolutely grand. And whilst I am well versed in that tongue, what I realised was that unless one had the language, knew the lingo and how to speak it, one could be very quickly alienated to the peripherals of [the horticultural] society.

If one wishes to think of it very simply and in a different light, let me pose this question. If one lives in an apartment, in Dublin City centre, works in the computer industry and has one house plant which some how manages to look green only because it is plastic…. how do I manage to get that person to take an interest in anything horticultural related, never mind a garden group outing.

What if that person described above did and then maybe started to write about this place and the outing on their weblog. What if they maybe then started to ask the odd garden question and got a taste of just how amazing the great outdoors actually is.

Let me give you some amazing statistics on the garden group attendees

  • 90% of all those who have come on the garden group outings I have organised live in apartments.
  • 90% of those don’t have gardens.
  • 95% of those have never gardened before.
  • 100% have never been a member of a garden group
  • 98% have never bought a garden magazine before.
  • 95% have never bought a plant before

But yet I can somehow or other get this demograph to come to Ballyboughal, middle of nowhere North county Dublin to walk the Slí na Sceacha, The Hedgerow Walk. Without wishing to sound selfish, but what do I get out of it ? On one hand not a lot. On the other I’m thinking and the aforementioned Mom and I most probably have a lot in common.

I don’t have a child of that age [yet] but the elation a parent must feel when your little runs out on the pitch or whatever it may be and does well, or not, must be immense.

Not to blow my own trumpet, but I’m just wondering if it is that easy for me to get a garden group together, then why aren’t there more non-garden-er groups like mine [?] I don’t have an answer to that, but I am of the thinking That The Tribesman isn’t such a bad place to start.

Your Garden Advice

I get asked a lot of garden related questions. Some, some may agree with, some there may just be a better way of doing it. I don’t mind that in so far as I know I will give my best at that time. I am also aware that some of my advice/ answers are starting to become patterns in that others are experiencing the same or similar problems, so this on the other hand is a little of a time saver for me. With that in mind and also that it may creat discussion I have decided to publish them. It won’t or may be a weekly thing. Just whenever there are enough to make it a post. I’ll even try and date them from now on.

These are just some that I could find to hand that I’ve replied to since Sunday.

Tree Advice:

I was just browsing your website and was admiring your work. I was interested in the trees you have planted in the image 63 of 140 in the image gallery. What type are they, betula utilis jacquemontii?
…… However, what safe distance from a 100mm solid block garden wall do you think is ok for the type of tree that you used.
I would have a distance of up to 900mm to the centre of the trunk from the wall.
I hope you don’t mind this random request for advice as a lot of advice on the internet is very conflicting.

To this I replied:

thanks for the compliment. The trees in question are indeed Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’. Very well spotted.
My opinion on the distance is a firm no, in short. It can be done and might work out fine. I can also understand the varying answers, but without even seeing the garden or foundations for the wall – its the distance and the eventual height the tree wants to grow…. it seems to me a mild case of keeping a tiger in a back garden – as versus a poodle. I know, a very bad analogy, but you get my point. More than that it is a very tasty choice in tree and one that comes with a price tag to match. If the question be would I invest my money, to put it into a space [distance] of that you have described – then the answer would be no.
Re the internet, you are 110% correct re the conflicting advice.
But then my grandmother did grow a lemon tree from a pip in what I can only describe as the windiest courtyard walled in on all four sides on dublins southside. According to the rule books, that should not happen. 🙂
No problem re the random request.

I got this response:

Thank you very much for your prompt response. Says a lot about how you view your business.
Anyhow. I will take your good advice, although the wall is new and I witnessed the foundations being poured. They are over 300mm wide and deep. Would be planting between granite slabs and I know the roots of these trees can be shallow too.
Pity, as they are a very tasty tree, as you said.

I replied:

speaking as Peter… I’d love to see you not take my advice simply just to see a beaut like that planted.
Some will say its fine. Some wont. But, if I am being asked in writing [*coughs so it sound all very official] then I’d have to say no. And in writing I’d be correct.
I do agree though, shame.
On a seperate note: doing a garden recentlty and a clients son asked why I followed Arsenal. In a similar light, absolutely stunning, beautiful to watch but…. 🙂
Have a great day and sorry for the fact that you aren’t going ahead.

Plant I.D.

Hi Peter apparently a very old flower!! But we don’t know the name! Any idea? Cheers

I replied:

looks like aquilegia, i’m reckoning the Aquilegia buergeriana 🙂 http://bit.ly/muRmMe

Tree Advice:

last december i got a pine tree, i coulnt plant it due to snow and frozen ground, the pine was in the same pot as i bought her in till march gone,  i noticed a couple of the branches turning brown, and i figured its about time i plant the pine, so i did, and well watered it and gave the pine some tree food, and watered her every day, the last few weeks she is turning completely brown except for the inner middle, have u any suggestions as to what i can, can she be saved.

I replied

is there any chance of a few photgraphs. also i wonder if this recent spell of warm weather had brought on some buds. my own weeping ash has only started producing hers in the last week or so. Been a tough 18 months for the poor fellows.

Thanks for your reply, I have attached some photos, you will be able to see that the inside is staying green, which gives me hope, have you any suggestions.

[note: I cannot locate the images but suffice to say it was entirely brown]

I replied:

I dont know if I’ve replied to this – but you are still in my inbox. this is the second time – would you believe to answer almost the exact same question. And sorry for the delay but the sun shine was keeping me quite busy 🙂
So here’s what I said and the exact same story applies to you too…..
In short, the tree may come back and there may as it seems be signs of life within. The key would be to remove all dead wood – or wood that is brown the entire way through. If you are unsure simply cut back until you hit a point of where the wood will not snap as versus bend and also there should be some signs of sap or green within. The tree may look disastrous after as a result but – the tree shouldn’t be trying to put energy into what is dead wood.
The reality is that the trees have simply had a double bad beating of the minus celcius elements over the last 18 months and some have simply suffered badly or just passed on. Would I fertilise ? No.
This is, based on the images the best advice I can give having I suppose not really seen the tree in person. that said, based on what you’ve told me I’m not far off the mark.

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If any more come in and are answered between now and Saturday night. I’ll update the post and simply pop them in here.

Recycled Car Tyre Garden Mulch

Made in Ireland from recycled car tyres. This might just be your newest readily available alternate to the usual garden bark mulch.

The advantages, by my logic, is that it wouldn’t need to be replenished as often, if at all. Also because it is an inert product [ie. it cannot be considered a growing medium] it cannot break down as a normal mulch would in which weeds eventually will grow into. That said were I normally wouldn’t use a semi permeable membrane to separate soil from bark, I might be inclined to do so in the case of this mulch as one would with lets say a decorative pebble. I can also see this working much better in childrens play areas from an aesthetics point of view as versus the rubber matting.

By my reckoning it looks pretty good close up and the tree rings seem a sturdy decent and extremely logic solution to weeds, weeding and their prevention.

Crumb Rubber are based in Dundalk, Co. Louth, Ireland and employ 24 people. They set up in 2003 to tackle the countries mounting waste tyre problem and in 2010 Crumb Rubber won the Green Entrepreneur Award.

Four Live on RTE – Friday 15th April

peter donegan rte four live

Friday 15th saw me appear on RTE’s Four Live show.You can watch it on RTE Player. I think it stays there for about 2 weeks or so

Here’s RTE’s blurb on what I was talking about…

Ireland have been classed as one of the worst offenders when it comes to wasting food, so to make sure you keep perfectly good food from the bin, landscaper and horticulturist Peter Donegan is here to show you how to replant and regrow!

peter donegan rte four live

more details on four live over on the RTE website.

A hat tip and note of thanks to Dave from RTE who looked after me. Nice one Dave. 🙂